Friday Pearl

Climate Change and Public Health

Friday, November 16, 2018

Climate change, together with other health stressors, influences human health and disease in numerous ways. ~Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  

Climate is a particularly important factor that influences the quality of the air we breathe. According to a recent study on the interplay of climate change and air pollution published in Current Environmental Health Reports, air pollution significantly affects health, now causing up to seven million premature deaths annually with an even larger number of hospitalizations and days of sick leave.

The longer-term economic effect of regulatory rollbacks, and climate-change-related diminishing air quality on public health and government health care spending is devastating, given the ever-rising cost of health care.  

In general, climate change is expected to worsen air quality in several densely populated regions by changing atmospheric ventilation and dilution, precipitation, atmospheric chemistry and removal processes affecting ecosystems, food security, and health in a feedback loop like the one in today's graphic.


This report found that over the last two decades, roughly every degree of warming in the observed data was associated with anthropogenic-created increases in CO2 levels and fine particles in the atmosphere including methane, as well as ozone concentrations. 

Particles from fossil fuel methane, soot, and carbon emissions can affect cardiopulmonary mortality, respiratory disease, asthma, chronic bronchitis, and rhinitis. According to the Current Environmental Health Report, "Recent evidence also supports association with diabetes, rheumatic diseases, cognitive functioning, and neurodegenerative diseases. As the climate continues to change, health impacts are projected to continue and increase in the future."

Seventeen recent peer-reviewed studies projecting the health risks of climate change and air pollution health effects were identified for this health report, focused primarily on premature mortality and morbidity. 

The conclusions and perspectives

Climate change is generally expected to increase air pollution concentrations in the future, although clearly, a decrease in pollutant emissions would help reduce the negative effects of climate change in the future, leading to an improvement in projected air quality. 

Since the future health burdens of air pollutants, particularly particulate matter and ozone levels, will depend on actions taken to locally and globally reduce the responsible emissions, better understanding is needed of the role fossil fuel emissions play on air pollutants.

Because there are very limited options for reducing human vulnerability to air pollutants, protection of population health under ever-warming climates will require stricter regulatory interventions, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preventing all water supply pollution, since clean air and water and nutrient- dense foods are all required for disease prevention.  

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff


A study published in the July 31, 2018, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that particulate-matter-policy relevant trends between 1988 and 2016 in the northwest United States were far more positive than in sites in the rest of the country. Unfortunately, horrific western wildfires linked to climate-change related droughts in all four seasons have now increased, causing decreasing air quality in much of the west. 

Government policy matters. 

The CDC is using its health expertise to help nonprofits, and state and city health departments prepare for and respond to the health effects that climate change may bring to their communities. Likely impacts include increased extreme weather events, wildfires, decreased air quality, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks.

Fortunately, science, overwhelming public opinion, and newly elected government officials will prevent what's left of the current EPA from rolling back crude oil, gas, methane, and soot regulations on the fossil fuel industry. 

Cleaner energy sourcing and clean air and water regulations will hopefully, again become the public priority.